Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has been published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.
At the eleventh hour before the 2016 presidential election, the alternative media is aflame with alleged discoveries of "Wikileaked" emails showing links between Hillary Clinton and a woman convicted of what in essence amounts to human trafficking in Haiti. The woman, Laura Silsby, had her case resolved in the Haitian justice system after intervention by Bill Clinton.
Haiti has long been rated one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking, and was in the top three in the US State Department's own 2016 report.
It is important to understand what is true and what is not true in this story, for the sake of avoiding persistent errors and mischaracterizations. In a matter of this gravity, those falling under suspicion are entitled to the facts just as much as the public is. Here is what we know:
- On January 9th, 2010 soon after the massive earthquake in Haiti, two American women who described themselves as "missionaries" attempted to smuggle 33 Haitian children out of Haiti into the neighboring Dominican Republic, where they said they were starting an orphanage. The two women led eight other volunteers, mostly women, who knew little about the case. In an NPR report Carlos Castillo, the Dominican Republic's consul general in Haiti, said he met with the leader of the mission, Laura Silsby, before she attempted to cross the border with the children. He said he told her that she lacked any documents to transport children, and warned her not to try or she could be arrested. In a Wikileaks email, the Argentine daily Critica quotes Dominican authorities saying that Silsby never submitted an application for building an orphanage.
- Silsby and her mission were stopped at the border and arrested. Silsby said the children were orphans, and that they were on a "rescue mission" after the earthquake. On January 4, 2010, NBC reported that an online statement of NLCR's mission described the mission as: "the rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic."
- The Wall Street Journal quoted an online document posted by Silsby saying that her plan was to "gather 100 orphans from the streets and collapsed orphanages." A Fox News report quotes Silsby in court saying that she met the children for the first time in front of a flattened building.
- It turned out that none of the children were orphans, all had at least one parent. Silsby then said that the children were handed over freely by their parents in hopes of "a better life."
- Laura Silsby was well-known to be under enormous debt difficulties at the time the Haitian earthquake hit. NPR reported on these, saying that in her town Silsby was "known for her blue Lexus convertible and her dog, Bentley."
- Although the case outraged the Haitian public, which called for human trafficking charges, Silsby was convicted in a Haitian court of the lesser charges of child abduction and criminal conspiracy.
- According to the Harvard Human Rights Journal, one of Silsby's legal advisors was one Jorge Torres-Puello, an American-Dominican living in the DR as a fugitive from human trafficking charges himself. U.S. authorities revealed that Torres-Puello was “linked to a network that trafficked in Haitian and Central American children and [was] wanted in the United States, El Salvador and Costa Rica.”
- The Harvard report concludes that although Silsby told the parents of the children that they were only going away for education and care, and could visit and take them back if desired, Silsby's long-term plans, according to a document she had posted, were for international adoptions.
- Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff at the State Department Huma Abedin apprised Clinton and other staffers of the case as it unfolded, revealing that Silsby took donations forwarded through the Central Valley Baptist Church, in Meridian, Idaho, with which Silsby was affiliated.
- It is strictly against Haitian law to remove children from their parents outside of the lengthy and rigorous process sanctioned by state authorities.
- At trial, Silsby maintained that she had been ignorant of the law and did not intentionally commit a crime. However, the Dominican Republic's consul general Carlos Castillo, as reported by CBS, said that he was "very specific" in warning Silsby that if she lacked the appropriate adoption papers her mission would be considered child trafficking.
- The Haitian prosecutor expressed keen interest in Silsby because she was in Haiti before the earthquake.
- An appropriate investigation of the Silsby case for human trafficking charges would have encompassed witnesses in three countries at the least: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the US. Such an investigation was never undertaken.
- The Clinton Foundation has come under fire for it's alleged mismanagement of donations made in the wake of the Haitian earthquake, with millions alleged missing or misapplied.
These are the facts, unless updated by research. Now the questions. Why would the US State Department under Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton in particular, intervene in a case involving one of Haiti's most sensitive topics, human trafficking, in particular child trafficking, on behalf of defendants who had been so demonstrably untruthful? Especially as the State Department's policy, according to a Wikileaks email, states that "The United State Government respects the sovereign right of the Government of Haiti to conduct its own judicial processes."
Bill Clinton had already taken hits for his documented large numbers of flights aboard the "Lolita Express," the private plane owned by convicted child sex offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, and got rid of his Secret Service detail for some of those flights. Epstein got off with a slap on the wrist for what law enforcement officials say should have meant life in prison. Someone high up obviously intervened for Epstein.
Why would the Clintons bear the political risk of going to bat for such figures without an extensive international investigation confirming there was not much to see?
The human trafficking watchdog group Global Centurian paints an abysmal picture of the odds for children outside of family structures in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In its 2016 report the organization wrote:
"Third, and perhaps of greatest concern is the cross migration of children (from Haiti into the Dominican Republic, from the DR into Haiti) for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Haitian children are exploited in the prosperous tourist and resort industries of the Dominican coasts; the Dominican children (and internally trafficked Haitian children) are exploited in brothels catering to U.N. peacekeepers and other foreign nationals."
The Wikileaks revelations give almost no answers. They open countless questions.
Below: Trailer for suppressed Learning Channel documentary Conspiracy of Silence.